Y’all, it’s NICE to read about insta-families. This post from a young soon-to-be stepmom totally made my morning – you know, there are a lot of mommy blogs. There are a a lot of stepmonster blogs. But there’s not a lot of blogs of happy blended families. It’s almost like everyone buys that terrible line “you don’t know true love until you have your own baby.” As both a stepchild and a stepparent, I reject this entirely. (Is it any wonder that I read a bunch of adoptive parent blogs? I mean, they know it’s possible to love another persons biological kid.)
After I met the kids a whole 3 1/2 years ago, I still had another six months to go before moving in. At that time Mike was working at home and able to manage most of the stuff for the kids. I was dealing with regular working-outside-of-the-area issues, like how do I manage to get to a third grade recorder concert when it’s at TWELVE NOON?! We did ok. I managed to make it to important things and we made it an important ritual to eat dinner together at the table when we have the kids over. and no bathroom talk allowed while eating.
In general, though, Mike had tried to shield me from the general parenting responsibilities for a long time – partly because he hates that dads get such a bad reputation as actual full-time PARENTS. I wonder if it was also partly that he didn’t want to put too much responsibility on me in case I didn’t want it after all. It was resolved through both discussion and necessity: we had a couple of conversations where I was insisting I wanted to help him with the boys more so we could have better times together as a family. Plus, as the kids got older and had more friends-activities to do that were sometimes in conflict, it was natural for me to start to bring them to birthday parties, help them with homework, and take them to scouts (or staying home with the littler one on scouts nights).
Two years ago Mike’s schedule changed from working at home to working in an office two hours away from our home. I HAD to pitch in more, and he HAD to let me. We wouldn’t have been able to spend so much time with the boys otherwise. And that was what was important: that we continue to build our insta-family, and that we make sure we were supporting the boys.
The first month at Mike’s new job he got a free pass: he was a wreck! He was exhausted and his schedule was a disaster scene. It was trial by fire for me. I ended up pitching in much more than I had previously – with his new four-hour-a-day commute, I was working in my office (which is 45min away from our home), picking up dinner stuff during the day, leaving early and driving home to get the kids from after-school, making dinner, and hopefully getting it on the table by the time Mike got home after HIS dash home from work. Then in the mornings I would drop the boys off at their Mom’s house so they could catch the bus to school.
After that first month *I* was a wreck and I told Mike we had to figure this out more equally – and he started to work from home one day a week so he could wrangle the kids and the dinner half the time.
True story: I still don’t know how to respond when people say “well, he should do that because they’re HIS kids, not yours.” Well, yes. That is totally biologically true. But when I committed to partner up with my sweetheart I was also partnering up with his kids. If we aren’t acting as a team we aren’t getting things done the right way. If we are wasting time keeping track of who is responsible for what and letting each other get overwhelmed and overloaded, we don’t have extra time for fun and fist bumps and motorcycling and smooching.
So now the general way things work is this: I pick the boys up and work with them on dinner on half of the nights we have them. Homework is fair game for whichever grown-up is around to help. Mike reads the bedtime story, but we both tuck in and kiss. If Mike is away I read the story too – you really CAN’T miss a bedtime story. Wake-ups are also about half time. (Honestly though, Mike is preferred, because he does a really hilarious grouchy Elmo puppet-routine and I am incorrigibly cheerful in the mornings.)
Last week Mike started a new job so I managed morning wake-ups, breakfast, and off-to-schools on the two mornings they woke at our house plus pickups after school when they were coming over. We don’t know how our roles and responsibilities will shake down as he gets used to his new employer – hopefully he’ll be able to schedule a work-at-home day on the Wednesdays we’ve always got the kids, but it’s still early steps.
The key is, though: it all kind of *works.* It works for us and it works for the kids. This weekend I went with Twelve to his scout candy sale. It wasn’t even our weekend with the kids, but their mom had a bunch of errands and Mike had volunteer fire department stuff to do, so I stood around for two hours while Twelve sold candy bars at a local sporting goods store. Then we had Taco Bell together and I dropped him off again at his mom’s. Last week Twelve and I went through a paragraph-by-paragraph revision of his paper on the Erie Canal (one of my secret areas of expertise, to his chagrin). Mike was sitting right there, but he asked me to do it because he knows one of my secret super powers is “sharing information with others in a written format.”
I’m thankful that we’re pulling together as a team, that we’re organizing our schedules and we’re making fun family time a priority over the whole “whose responsibility is it” game. I want to have a family with these two little dudes and their dad, and I’m thankful that everyone else is working with me to make this happen. Most importantly, I want these little dudes to know that I love them very much, that they are important to me, and that they can count on me to support them.